Moulage Casts Reality With Mock Injuries

At first it appears to be the set of Hollywood’s latest horror film: torn tissue, blood, lacerations, broken bones, and even vomit – enough, in other words, to make even the strongest person nauseous and somewhat woozy. But this isn’t theater – it’s the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala.

The use of artificial injuries in movies and/or for training purposes is not a new concept, and in fact is still evolving. Moulage techniques have been used by emergency-response personnel for quite a few years. Moulage (the term is a French word meaning a mold or cast taken from an impression and used in criminal investigations and for other purposes) comes in many forms, including “imitation wounds” made of rubber or latex that are emplaced on mannequins and/or living role players. Learning the correct use of moulage can be a difficult task. But taking the process a step further by adding makeup and a variety of other materials is a recipe for realistic training.

The CDP has used the art and science of moulage for almost 10 years, but until recently the CDP staff could not create the simulated injuries; they were all made by the private sector and purchased “off the shelf” from various vendors who specialize in this gruesome science. Today, three CDP staffers provide both experience and art form during emergency-response exercises, in which they participate in addition to their regular duties. In early 2007, these artisans received basic moulage training from a local responder. After assisting in moulage applications over a period of several days while preparing for an emergency-response exercise, the CDP staffers further enhanced their skills in advanced training carried out at the Image Perspectives’ School of Moulage in Carson City, Nevada.

The Ancient Heritage of Modern Realism

“Moulage dates back to the Renaissance,” said Delois Champ, manager of the CDP Operations Center. “Moulage is used to provide realistic injuries for exercise and training purposes,” she added. “Deep cuts, major trauma, and open fractures take several days to complete prior to applying to the victim.” Depending on the severity of the injuries being created, it may take “several hours working on victims,” Champ said, to complete a moulage cast or impression.

Exercise planning, including a determination of the moulage requirements likely to be approved, begins a few months before an exercise. Numerous meetings are held to determine both the types and number of injuries required to meet exercise objectives. After the injury requirements have been determined and approved, the moulage team brainstorms on the creation and application of the injuries each of the exercise “victims” will exhibit. The smallest details – down to blood pressure and pulse rate – are determined during the brainstorming sessions. “I love being creative and seeing how realistic I can make the wounds appear,” said Wendi Feazell of the center’s operations and support staff. “ … It affords you the opportunity to meet other staff members. We also have an opportunity to work with responders and get a better understanding of what they could see day-to-day.”

The creation and use of moulage is not as easy as it may seem at first glance. The person “behind the makeup” needs a touch of artistic skill and creativity to add the desired effect of realism. “I have always been an artistic person,” said Barry Snow, a CDP physical security staffer. “Blisters, cuts, and bruising are the easiest [imitation injuries] for me to create. Most of the materials we use stay in their liquid or workable form for only a short period of time, which requires working very quickly. You also need a very good sense of what the real injury that you are trying to simulate looks like, so the responder can react, diagnose, and treat the injury correctly to maximize the training benefit. In other words, it has to be believable.”

High Praise from Users, Artisans

The use of moulage “is an interesting technique that makes our exercises unique,” said Feazell. “ … Although we [the moulage staffers] are behind the scenes, I feel a sense of accomplishment by having added more realism that may help a responder in a real situation.”

Using moulage as part of the training exercise with live albeit simulated victims helps sharpen the responders’ reactions. Their response to a trauma scene could be the difference between life and death, especially with the added stress of having to face, and endure, some unnerving sights.

“Moulage significantly enhances the realism and effectiveness of exercises and training,” said Champ. “This [i.e., the application and use of moulage] is a unique skill that enhances my ability to contribute to the CDP’s mission.”

Using the enhanced effects made possible by moulage “allows role-player victims to simulate their injuries better,” Snow added. “It provides realistic training for our responders. I have received comments that the appearance was unbelievable and looked painful.”

Each victim in any given exercise is suffering from pre-planned specific injuries and symptoms. The moulage experts usually are on the scene hours before the exercise applying the blood, open fractures, vomit, and lacerations specified in the exercise scenario. “Regardless of the situation or scenario, the addition of moulage adds a whole new emergency twist,” Feazell said. “Using moulage changes the makeup – no pun intended – of the exercise. It’s no different from theater special effects, and can sometimes be a little scary, but it is always real.”

The look and feel of the trauma scene are definitely more realistic when moulage is used as the ultimate training aid. But the casts and molds used to create unsightly injuries are not products pulled off the shelves at the local moulage shop. The injuries simulated usually require hours to create. Supplies such as special makeup, stage blood, blood powder, simulated charred skin, liquid starch, latex, and gelefects are among the common tools used to build moulage in a variety of imaginative combinations. “I know moulage enhances the training exercise,” said Feazell. “This specialized technique prepares the responder for real-life emergencies.”

Moulage may not be for the squeamish, but it does provide, and promote, a more realistic training environment. The use of moulage techniques prepares responders for real-life emergencies using a method that commands an immediate response and insight to potential injuries. “The bottom line,” Feazell emphasized, is that “what is realistically experienced is better learned and retained.”


For further information about FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, visit

Shannon Arledge

Shannon Arledge is a public affairs specialist at the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama. A retired Marine gunnery sergeant, he served in numerous public affairs/public information assignments during his 20 years on active duty, including tours of duty at Headquarters Marine Corps, the Defense Information School, and Marine Barracks Washington. He deployed twice to the Persian Gulf – in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – as Public Affairs Chief for Marine Forces U.S. Central Command (Forward) and Public Affairs Chief for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. A graduate of the Defense Information School for Public Affairs and Visual Information, he also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from the University of Phoenix.



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